Charles Nailen/The Hoya Actor Martin Sheen (right) gets into his character, Josiah Bartlet, for a taping of a graduation for ‘West Wing’ Sunday on Healy Lawn.
A considerable number of Georgetown students have watched “The West Wing” since its first season in 1999, but many can now say that they have been on the show. This past weekend, the cast and production crew of the hit television show journeyed from their Warner Brothers Studios in Los Angeles, Calif. to film a graduation sequence complete with student extras in front of Healy Hall. The episode, scheduled to air on May 7, celebrates the commencement of “The West Wing” president Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen)’s daughter, Zoey (Elizabeth Moss), who had been a student in the College on the series.
In preparation for the filming, a mock graduation stage was set up in front of Healy along with banners, decorations and seating arrangements. The crew of “West Wing” began constructing this set on Thursday when the Georgetown banners were first hung. The building of the stage was done primarily on Saturday and the decoration of the stage was all done in the early hours of Sunday morning before filming.
“The shooting couldn’t have gone better,” Lou Wells, producer of “The West Wing” said. “From the president down, everyone opened up to us.”
The show also needed to find a number of student extras. On a politically active campus, the Lecture Fund, which conducted a lottery for students hoping to be extras, had no problem-finding students willing to sit in the sun for the eight-hour filming process. “We loved having the student extras who were so incredibly enthusiastic to help out with the scenes,” Wells said.
Most of the extras involved were serious “West Wing” fans, thrilled that the show chose the Georgetown campus for this event rather than a studio in California. “I’ve always enjoyed the show and it’s extremely rare to get the chance to be an extra.” Jonathan Evans (SFS ’06) said. “The most surprising thing was how long it took to shoot one scene, because they did several runs of the scene, and then they would move the cameras and film the same scene several more times,” Laura Dziorny (COL ’06) said. “In all, it took us almost six hours to film a scene that will probably only comprise about one minute of the show.”
“Since the filming of this part of `The West Wing’ television show was a re-creation of commencement both the representatives and I thought it would be a great idea to try to have real students from Georgetown University in the scene,” Director of the Office of Events and Protocol Gloria Lacap said.
The casting of the professors was not done by the university, but rather by the casting companies that put together the show’s production.
Once the student extras took the stage of Healy lawn in full cap and gown, the “talent” – from Sheen to the cast members playing everyone including the university president, Georgetown professors and even on-lookers at the graduation ceremony – took their places.
The scene, which the cast rehearsed countless times over the nine hour shooting time, consisted of Bartlet entering the stage with the actor playing Georgetown’s fictional president while the students and seated professors clapped. After the announcer read, “Ladies and gentleman, the President of the United States Josiah Bartlet, accompanied by the president of Georgetown University,” the extras were to pantomime clap while Sheen and the university president waved and motioned to the crowd.
The Office of Public Affairs was approached several weeks ago by representatives of the show and asked to film a commencement scene on-campus. In coordination with the Office of Public Affairs, the producers of the “The West Wing” came out for a number of site reviews. After successful site reviews, the team began conversations planning the many logistics of the production shoot.
“During big events with various celebrities or dignitaries, the Office of Protocol and Events plays a huge role in coordinating the logistics and serving as the point of contacts on site and during the planning process,” Lacap said. “We work with the various departments on campus who will be involved in the event and bring all the various entities together both on-and off-campus to ensure a smooth event.”
ThinkFilm, the Washington, D.C. company that produces “The West Wing,” sent out a letter to all local residents last week announcing the filming and that the city had granted them permission to park vehicles on both sides of N Street, between 36th and 37th Streets, between N and O Streets and finally between O and Prospect Streets from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. The residents were asked not to park in the areas where “Emergency No Parking” signs had been posted.
Department of Public Safety officers were also used in the event, both to facilitate campus and neighborhood traffic while the company set up and filmed and to provide security for the set on Friday and Saturday nights.
Georgetown was originally chosen during the first season of the show to be the school of the president’s daughter. “We wanted to tell a story about how her starting college would affect the president and first lady,” Wells said. “We picked Georgetown because Bartlet is Catholic and Georgetown is a great university and a great place to send her to school in our fictional world.”
TheWashington, D.C. crew of “The West Wing” has been filming on location since last Friday. The crew filmed in Alexandria, on the Georgetown University campus, K Street and will conclude the filming on 17th street near the American Revolution building. The unit is filming for the May 7 broadcast as well as the May 14 season finale.
Although the plot is kept secret until the show is aired, Wells did release that the show, aside from commencement at Georgetown University, will show what happens when the government has to shift into a different gear because someone very close to the president has been taken away.
Despite the stress of working with the Washington, D.C. film industry, producers from the California and Washington units of “The West Wing,” many involved enjoyed the experience. “This project was a lot of fun to work on,” Lacap said. “I had a great time, and the long day was completely worth it.” Dziorny said. “Just the chance to be a part of my favorite show made the whole day fun and exciting.”